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Jordan, October 8, 2010

Crazy Marathon Training: Running the Dead Sea in Jordan

Dead Sea start to my run
See the water bottle marker?
6% grade on Dead Sea road !
Dead Sea is killing me!
Rehydrating at breakfast
The Dead Sea is a bit more humid than I expected. At 7am, I've only run 3 miles and I am already coated in sweat. More sweat than mid-summer runs in Washington, DC. I am just dripping sweat. I think I'm even sweating from my eyeballs. That's how humid the Dead Sea is, even at this early hour in early October.

Through the sweat I look around and take in the view. Bright red mountains banded by clear blue waters and crystal blue skies. Not a tree or human in sight. An utter silence from the thick air broken only by my labored breath and tired footfalls.

I'm on the Dead Sea highway along the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. And I am running. Not from anyone, but to my destination, the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa just over 18 miles from where I started.

Yes, I am running 18 miles along the Dead Sea in Jordan.

I have a marathon coming up in 3 weeks and this was the longest, flat stretch of road I could find near Amman. The oppressive heat and humidity was unexpected, but I am prepared. As the taxi drove me to my start point, the Mujib Bridge, I dropped off water bottles and snacks every 3 miles, marking locations with my GPS.

Now, as I run back to the hotel, I'm finding my stashes and using water to both drink and cool off. While this idea of running the Dead Sea seemed brilliant last night - deserted, flat road with breath-taking scenery, its not such a bright idea now that I'm feeling my bodily fluids drain from every pore of my body.

By mile 6, I've come upon a party from the night before. A hundred men have spent the night at the Dead Sea, on the beach, living it up and are now in different stages of waking up to head back to Amman. Oddly, not a woman in sight and absolutely no overtly gay men.

They look at me with a mixture of confusion and awe till I start to high kick as I run, which has them all laughing. For the rest of my run, I know when they're driving by me, as the guys are all cheering me on.

But I am nowhere done yet.

The breeze has started, which I would welcome for one small factor - it's blowing the wrong way. It's blowing with me, so I do not feel its cooling effects unless I stop and turn around. Which I start to do with regularity, just to cool myself. Because the Dead Sea has now gotten hotter, if that's even possible.

Around mile 10, I start to think that my shoes are melting. They have to be in this heat. My feet are burning. I am mentally running through the heat stroke checklist. Still sweating? Yes, good! Still have my balance? Yes, good! Do I feel like I have a fever? No, great!

On I run, chasing the shade offered by the high hills on the Jordan side of the Dead Sea. I start to feel every change in grade, up or down, along the road. I imagine I can feel each asphalt pebble. I start to fixate on the next water & fruit stop, imagining the taste of the orange I've left for nourishment.

Then it happens - I can't find the next water bottle!

My GPS says the bottle should be at this turn off along the Dead Sea road. I can remember stopping here, or was it the next turn off? I put a bright yellow dishwashing glove on the bottle so I would see it from the road, but there is no yellow to be seen.

Did someone take it? How long can I look before I use up the hydration it would take me to finish with the bottle I have? With half a liter of water and 4 miles left, I trudge onward, nursing every drop of fluid.

I sip water only when needed. No more pouring it on my head. I think of wringing out my shirt into my mouth, drinking my own sweat to keep hydrated, but I opt to wring it on my head instead. Yes, I am really questioning the brilliance of this run right about now.

Then I see it - my destination - in the distance

The Marriott is so tantalizingly close, yet I know its still miles away. My GPS tells me to the foot how far I have left. I curse its flat, gray screen. I start to make bargains with myself. Just a few more foot falls and then I can walk a bit. No, just a few more.

I imagine the taste of ice cold Gatorade. Better yet, ice cream! A bucket of it on my head, dripping down into my mouth. I start to dream about the all-you-can-eat buffet that awaits me. I consider running down to the Dead Sea itself and taking a drink.

Yet I press on. Its now mile 16 or maybe 17. I dare not look less I give up so close to my goal. I push onwards in the heat. I know I've run off blisters and now have raw meat between my toes. My feet are numb. I keep running. Somewhere in this daze, I cross the threshold of the swank Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa.

Cold air hits me. I almost faint. I gather my last strength and walk right through the hotel, down stairs that make my thighs scream at every step. I pass all the signs saying the beach is for guests only. I slip off my shoes, I take off my shirt, and I dive into the Dead Sea.

I've done it. I've run 18 miles along the Dead Sea!

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